The conflict with Iraq left most members of Congress like the rest of the country - spellbound observers.
But now, after a two-week Easter vacation, lawmakers are likely to shed their preoccupation with the Persian Gulf and enter a partisan thicket of kitchen-table issues like taxes and education that have been relegated to the background."The break basically represents a hiatus that kind of separates the war and the politics surrounding the war from a return to the domestic agenda," said Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif.
Lawmakers return to work on Tuesday. A return to the domestic agenda, however, means partisan battling, spiced by both parties' awareness that the 1992 campaign season is not that far off.
"The Democrats will try to create the impression that they're moving forward on domestic issues despite opposition from the White House," says Rep. Norman Lent, R-N.Y., ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "They'll be trying to discredit Bush with the election coming up."
Democrats counter that they will take on Bush if they have to, knowing that polls show the public trusts them over Republicans on domestic issues. A battle with the president over the domestic agenda, they say, is up to Bush.
"It depends on whether he'll exercise the same kind of leadership he exercised during the war," says Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, who might be interested in challenging Bush next year. "Up to this point, he hasn't exercised that kind of leadership on domestic issues."
One of the first items awaiting Congress is enacting a $1.4 trillion budget for fiscal 1992, which starts Oct. 1.
The House Budget Committee, which Panetta chairs, plans to write a spending plan this week. Panetta and fellow Democrats want to give more money to education, health care and children's programs than Bush recommended in February.
Bush's budget proposed several minor tax increases and cuts and a five-year, $25 billion slash in the Medicare health-care program for the elderly and handicapped.
Panetta says his plan won't suggest increases or cuts in taxes or benefit programs such as Medicare or Social Security. Instead, it will offer a menu of possible initiatives, such as increasing unemployment insurance coverage. The decision on whether to enact the options - and how to pay for them - would be left for later in the year.
Bentsen's Senate Finance Committee begins hearings this week on growing medical costs and the difficulty of getting health insurance. He would like to pass legislation on those issues this year.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has tentatively scheduled his Labor and Human Resources Committee to meet Wednesday to work on an education bill that would create a slew of literacy initiatives and establish a council to set national education goals. Bush has proposed some education spending increases for next year, but Democrats want to go further.
Other domestic business facing Congress includes:
-A House Judiciary subcommittee Wednesday will take up the Brady bill, which requires a seven-day waiting period before a person can buy a handgun.
-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney plans Thursday to announce a list of military bases he wants to close as part of Pentagon budget-tightening.